At the root of the convulsions over Israel’s new government lies the secular world’s hatred and terror of religion.
Put to one side, for now, the question of whether the hysterical predictions of extremism and the end of Israeli democracy are remotely likely to happen.
Park the fact that we don’t yet know how this new government will behave, and whether the pledge made by returning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he will resist any extremist demands made by his religious allies is genuine or achievable.
Point your periscope instead at Britain, a country whose ability even now to punch culturally well above its weight tends to be ignored by people in both America and Israel.
Direct your gaze in particular at King Charles III, whose first Christmas message to the nation was broadcast last week.
While going out of his way in the address to affirm the depth of his Christian faith, he also name-checked Britain’s “churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and gurdwaras” as doing good works that expressed “loving our neighbor as ourself.” He further declared that “the power of light overcoming darkness is celebrated across the boundaries of faith and belief.”
This was a deliberate attempt to stamp himself as the head of a family of faiths and cultures. The King is personally very open to other forms of spirituality. His attraction to Islam is well known. He is also deeply sympathetic to Judaism.
He was very close to Britain’s late Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Recently, he visited London’s JW3 Jewish community center, where he beamed as he danced with Holocaust survivors and others.
And he paid a moving personal tribute to Rabbi Abraham Levy, the former head of Britain’s Sephardi community, who died last week. “May his memory be a blessing” said the King, using the traditional Jewish words of respect for the deceased.
Crucially, however, he understands that Christianity underpins British national identity, which itself depends on continuity.
That doesn’t mean other faiths aren’t welcome in Britain. It means that, if a nation is to remain united, it needs to have a religious cultural umbrella under which all can shelter.
America’s own doctrine of the separation of church and state may make this hard for some Americans to understand. However, Americans fool themselves if they think secularism holds their nation together, because biblical values infuse America’s core culture and its constitution.
Indeed, classical liberalism—the basis of Western modernity—holds that all citizens must adhere to the overarching core of the culture, such as democracy, sexual equality and one law for all.
Under that cultural umbrella, they are free to practice their own faith or traditions provided they don’t contradict these core precepts.
Left-wing ideologues, however, claim that biblical precepts do contradict core Western values. This is the reverse of the truth. Today’s progressive ideologies derive from the revolt against the biblical values that underpin Western civilization.
Leftists claim that only if the Bible is junked can everyone be treated with equal respect. But “equal respect” was in fact invented by the Hebrew Bible and is absolutely central to Judaism.
The problem is that the left confuses “equal respect” with identical treatment and outcomes, which they call “non-discrimination.” But also central to Judaism is the notion of discrimination between acts that build communal bonds and those that destroy community and nation.
This belief in moral discrimination and the importance of behavior is particular to Judaism. But the universalism that characterizes left-wing thinking negates Jewish particularism.
Left-wing universalism therefore undermines the idea of the nation state and the corresponding rule of law rooted in popular assent, both of which Judaism pioneered.
The notion being trumpeted by opponents of Israel’s new government that sexual libertarianism is normative is also entirely false. Traditional norms of sexual identity and behavior are laid down as non-negotiable in Jewish religious law, and are in turn foundational to Christianity.
It’s perfectly possible to stick to these religious precepts while pursuing policies that are humane, compassionate and just towards individuals and minority groups. But for the left, only its own “identicality” dogma is humane and compassionate.
In Britain, this has led to the insistence that public officials with conservative religious beliefs act against their faith. So Christian registrars are forced to officiate at gay adoptions, or Orthodox Jewish schools which never teach about sexuality are pressured to teach about homosexuality. Christian bakers have been forced to fight in court for the right not to bake a cake to support same-sex marriage.
In Israel, the left claims the new government will deprive LGBTQ people of the right to general medical treatment (essential to a classically liberal society). Religious Zionists in the coalition claim this is untrue, and they merely want to defend the right of Orthodox Jews not to be forced to act against their religious beliefs (essential to a classically liberal society).
It remains to be seen which of these perspectives turns out to be correct—if indeed this issue is allowed to emerge at all. But the left’s claim that if Israel departs from left-wing shibboleths it will enter a dark and oppressive place is wide of the mark.
Far from creating a liberal, tolerant society, progressive ideologies are profoundly illiberal and coercive. Far from producing the brotherhood of mankind, left-wing universalism sets group against group in a battle for power over each other.
A constitutional monarchy, such as exists in Britain, promotes unity because it exists above politics and therefore above division. This was the great insight of King David, who unified the tribes of ancient Israel to form a coherent nation and whose limited monarchy was the inspiration and template for the British Crown.
King Charles’s patent desire to bring the British people together has transformed him from a figure widely disparaged and distrusted as cold and remote into a person viewed affectionately as the benign and genial grandfather of the nation.
The State of Israel, of course, doesn’t have a monarchy. Nor does America, which is being pulled apart over these cultural issues.
For all the unifying strength of the monarchy he represents, however, King Charles is actually in a lonely and perilous position. For the prevailing culture in Britain is actively undermining the religious continuity he realizes is essential.
No political party in Britain is prepared to face down and defeat the culture warriors writing women and conservatives out of the public sphere. No party is prepared to stop children being taught the lie that Britain and the West were born in the original sins of colonialism and oppression. No party is prepared to conserve and defend the classical liberal settlement underpinning freedom, tolerance and democracy. And no party is prepared to challenge radical, pagan environmentalism—to which the King, with his belief in the spiritual unity of all creation, is unfortunately also deeply attached.
In America, the parallel collapse of conservatives’ understanding of what was at risk and needed to be defended led to the implosion of the Republican Party and the rise to power in 2016 of Donald Trump as the only way to defeat the cultural predations of the left.
In Israel, the collapse of the moderate, religious Yamina Party meant that those who believe the combination of Jewish religious integrity with a modern economy, scientific advancement and the duties of citizenship is crucial to Israel’s identity and survival were left with no political representation.
They have been presented instead with a stark choice between religious zealots in one camp and left-wingers in the other screaming about the end of democracy while urging insurrection against an elected democratic government—and with Netanyahu holding the line against the extremism on either side.
Considering the way Netanyahu has been characterized as beyond the pale, this is indeed an irony. He and King Charles, it turns out, have something rather crucial in common.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir Guardian Angel has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy. Go to melaniephillips.substack.com to access her work.
Be a part of our community
JNS serves as the central hub for a thriving community of readers who appreciate the invaluable context our coverage offers on Israel and their Jewish world.
Please join our community and help support our unique brand of Jewish journalism that makes sense.